Editorial: In declaration, Governor Onaga calls for protection of human rights and peace

June 24, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

In a peace declaration made at the June 23 memorial to mourn those who were sacrificed in the Battle of Okinawa, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga called on the Japanese and U.S. governments to reduce the U.S. Marine presence on Okinawa as a concrete measure to protect human rights and peace.

The Battle of Okinawa saw one in four Okinawans killed in a fierce land battle. After the war, Okinawan human rights continued to be severely violated due to crimes and accidents caused by U.S. military personnel and civilian employees. And in April of this year, yet another tragic incident occurred.

In Governor Onaga’s peace declaration was engraved the anguish and anger of Okinawans toward being subject to the threat of the military, an instrument of violence, for seventy-one years since the end of the war.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, who attended the ceremony, should realize that.

Only natural to reduce Marine presence

In his peace declaration, Governor Onaga decried the unforgivable incident in which a former U.S. Marine and then-military contractor robbed a young woman of her life as “inhuman and vicious.” He urged his listeners to think, saying, “Okinawans have had to live face to face with the U.S.-Japan security arrangement and the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement,” and querying, “Are freedom, equality, human rights, and democracy as guaranteed to Japanese citizens by the Constitution of Japan really being guaranteed equally to us?”

This is the sorrow of which Okinawans have no choice but to speak at a ceremony intended to mourn the lives sacrificed in the Battle of Okinawa. This is Okinawa’s reality, and Onaga’s words are a statement of objection toward the negligence of the Japanese government, which has forced the oppression of U.S. bases on Okinawa and done nothing about the human rights violations caused by crimes and accidents.

Onaga’s peace declaration also specifically called on the Japanese and U.S. governments to drastically revise the Status of Forces Agreement and to consolidate and reduce the U.S. bases in Okinawa, including a reduction of the Marine forces, in order to achieve a true “Cornerstone of Peace.” It was the first time a governor included a call for the reduction of Marine forces in his peace declaration.

The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly has adopted a statement protesting the murder and demanding that the U.S. Marines withdraw from Okinawa. Okinawans also called for the withdrawal of the Marines at a mass rally held on June 19. It was only natural for Governor Onaga to include the same appeal in his peace declaration.

Peace declarations made in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic bombs caused tremendous suffering and loss of life, and where residents still suffer the aftereffects of the bombings, call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is natural for people to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons based on their experience of the atomic bomb.

Similarly, Okinawans are calling for the reduction of U.S. bases and above all the reduction of the Marines in order to protect Okinawan lives, property, and peace. This is a natural demand to make.

After the Battle of Okinawa ended, women became targets of sexual violence. Suzuyo Takazato, co-representative of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, says that “even after the war ended, a new war began for women.”

As long as women are still becoming victims of sexual violence as a result of the U.S. bases, we cannot say that the war has ended. A reduction in Marine forces and a large-scale consolidation and downsizing of U.S. bases in Okinawa is essential to put an end to this war of sexual violence.

Stopgap measures are not enough

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also spoke at the ceremony, saying he had protested directly to the U.S. president and announcing, “I feel extremely strong outrage that an utterly despicable and vicious incident occurred.” He explained that he is negotiating with the United States government to revise the handling of military contractors under the Status of Forces Agreement.

However, what Okinawans demand is a drastic revision of the Status of Forces Agreement, which gives special privileges to U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors and lays the groundwork for crimes. Revising the handling of military contractors under the agreement is nothing but a stopgap measure, and will do nothing to appease Okinawans.

Just as last year, Governor Onaga’s peace declaration harshly criticized the plan to build a new U.S. base in Henoko. “It is impossible to accept [the government’s] insistence that the relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko is the only solution, despite its inability to gain the assent of the Okinawan people,” Onaga said.

Okinawa Association of Bereaved Families chairman Tokumasa Miyagi also stated, “As someone who lost family members in the war, I fervently wish for the immediate relocation of Futenma Air Station, but I am also absolutely opposed to the construction of a new military base, which will lead to more wars.”

These are the voices of Okinawans who experienced the Battle of Okinawa and continue to suffer human rights violations as a result of the U.S. bases. People in mainland Japan cannot continue to cover their ears and refuse to listen. So long as we accept the continuation of the U.S.-Japan security arrangement, all Japanese people must consider April’s tragic murder incident and the new base construction issue as issues in which they are directly involved.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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